A State’s Guide To Surviving The Recession

Why have some states, like Texas and North Dakota, weathered the recession much better than others, like Arizona and Florida? According to new report from Goldman Sachs (not available online but summarized here and here), three key factors protected certain states from the worst of the recession:

  • energy resources or industries, particularly oil and natural gas
  • technology and high-end professional industries
  • fewer subprime mortgages during the housing bubble

These three factors explain nearly three-fourths of the difference in job performance among states since the recession began.

What didn’t matter? States’ tax and spending policies. Goldman’s research found that the  size of a state’s spending and its income and property tax rates had no relationship with that state’s job picture. Whether other government activities, like regulatory structures or investment in job development programs matter wasn’t covered in any descriptions of the report I read.

These findings should give pause to those who argue that tax and spending policies, in and of themselves, are responsible for recent job trends at the state level. Two recent examples of this line of thinking: (1) the Rick Perry campaign’s claim that miracle job growth in Texas is due in part to tax cuts and spending reductions (2) the Heritage Foundation’s suggestion that poor job growth Illinois is due to its plan to increase tax rates. The Goldman report suggests that focusing on strengthening the housing and mortgage markets and cultivating key industries may be more valuable for states than tinkering with taxes and spending.